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GE Mann and GE Lamming

In this study, the relationship between maternal hormone environment and early embryo development in mature non-lactating Holstein-Friesian cows was investigated. Animals were inseminated at either 72 or 96 h after prostaglandin injection (n = 23) or were left as uninseminated controls (n = 10). Plasma samples were collected once a day from the first day of insemination (day 1) until day 16, when the cows underwent an oxytocin challenge, and were then slaughtered and their reproductive tracts removed. The tracts were flushed to collect embryos and the flushes were measured for interferon tau (IFN-tau) activity. Inseminated cows without an embryo on day 16 (n = 5) underwent both delayed ovulation (indicated by delayed decrease in oestradiol concentrations) and a delayed increase in progesterone concentrations after ovulation compared with cows with an embryo on day 16 (n = 15). Within the group of cows with an embryo, those with poorly developed embryos producing undetectable concentrations of IFN-tau (n = 7) had similar oestradiol profiles but underwent a delayed progesterone increase after ovulation compared with cows with well developed embryos producing measurable quantities of IFN-tau (n = 8). In the cows with an embryo, the plasma concentration of 13,14-dihydro-15-keto PGF2a, the principal metabolite of PGF2a, after injection of oxytocin was lower than that of control cows and cows without an embryo. However, when the cows with an embryo were compared on the basis of production of embryonic IFN-tau, the PGF2a response to oxytocin was attenuated completely in cows that had measurable IFN-tau activity, whereas a response of similar magnitude to that in control cows and cows without an embryo was observed in those with undetectable IFN-tau activities. In conclusion, the successful maternal recognition of pregnancy in cows depends on the presence of a sufficiently well developed embryo producing sufficient quantities of IFN-tau, which is, in turn, dependent on an appropriate pattern of maternal progesterone secretion.

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RS Robinson, GE Mann, GE Lamming and DC Wathes

This study examined the expression patterns of oxytocin and steroid receptors in the bovine endometrium during the oestrous cycle and early pregnancy to elucidate their respective roles in the regulation of luteolysis and the maternal recognition of pregnancy. In Expt 1, uterine biopsies were collected from four cows throughout three oestrous cycles each, to provide daily samples. In Expt 2, uterine tissue was collected on days 12, 14, 16 and 18 of the oestrous cycle (n = 20) or early pregnancy (n = 16). Oxytocin receptor, oestrogen receptor alpha and progesterone receptor mRNAs were localized by in situ hybridization, and localization of oestrogen receptor and progesterone receptor was confirmed by immunocytochemistry. All three receptors showed time- and cell-specific expression patterns. Oestrogen receptor alpha increased in all regions at oestrus but high concentrations were also found in the luminal epithelium during the mid-luteal phase and in the deep glands throughout the oestrous cycle. Progesterone receptor expression was higher in the stroma than it was in the types of epithelial cell, and increased expression was observed at oestrus and during the early luteal phase. The cyclical upregulation of oxytocin receptors in the luminal epithelium on about day 16 was not related to preceding changes in the endometrial expression of either oestradiol alpha or progesterone receptors. During early pregnancy, oxytocin receptor expression was suppressed. Oestrogen receptor a concentrations increased in the non-pregnant cows and decreased in the pregnant cows between days 16 and 18, but these changes followed rather than preceded the upregulation of oxytocin receptors in the non-pregnant cows. It is concluded that the initial upregulation of oxytocin receptors in the luminal epithelium, which triggers luteolysis, is not associated directly with changes in expression of oestrogen receptor alpha.

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ST Leung, K Derecka, GE Mann, AP Flint and DC Wathes

Both the production of cytokines and the distribution of immune cells within the uterus change during early pregnancy. Evidence obtained mainly from mice indicates that these changes are important for implantation and in preventing a maternal immune response to the conceptus. The ruminant embryo also produces interferon tau at this time, the signal for the maternal recognition of pregnancy. The relationship between these events in cows was studied using uteri from three groups of animals on day 16 after observed oestrus: (i) cyclic controls, (ii) pregnant and (iii) inseminated but with no embryo present. Embryo size and the antiviral activity in uterine flushings (indicative of the interferon tau concentration) were measured. Sections of intact uterus were frozen for the localization and quantitation of CD4(+) (T lymphocytes), CD14(+) (macrophages) and CD21(+) (B lymphocytes) uterine cells by immunohistochemistry. The expression of interleukin (IL)-1alpha, IL-2, IL-6 and IL-10 mRNAs in uterine extracts was measured by RT-PCR. Neither embryo size, interferon tau concentration nor pregnancy status influenced the distribution of CD4(+), CD14(+) or CD21(+) cells in the day 16 uterus. Endometrial IL-1alpha mRNA was detected in most cows across the groups, whereas IL-2 mRNA was only present in the non-pregnant uterus. IL-6 and IL-10 mRNAs were not detectable in any uteri. In conclusion, IL-2 mRNA expression is detectable in the non-pregnant but not the pregnant uterus on day 16 and interferon t is unlikely to play a role in the redistribution of immune cells in the uterus during early bovine pregnancy.

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PG Pushpakumara, RS Robinson, KJ Demmers, GE Mann, KD Sinclair, R Webb and DC Wathes

Early mammalian embryo development in vitro can be enhanced by co-culture with oviductal cells and by the addition of insulin-like growth factors (IGFs). This study examined the expression patterns of the oviductal IGF system in cattle in relation to the number of days after oestrus and the presence or absence of embryos. Oviducts were collected from: (i) 66 nulliparous heifers on day 3, day 6 or day 16 after insemination and from (ii) ten non-pregnant, lactating cows on day 0 or day 1 of the oestrous cycle. Oviducts were coiled, frozen whole and sectioned for in situ hybridization. Expression patterns of mRNAs encoding IGF-I, IGF-II, type 1 IGF receptor (IGF-1R), and the IFG binding proteins (IGFBP)-1, -3 and -5 were determined from autoradiographs. Separate measurements were made for the mucosa and muscle layers of the infundibulum, ampulla and isthmus. None of the parameters measured differed between heifers with or without the presence of an embryo. mRNAs encoding IGF-I and IGF-1R were present in the mucosa and muscle of all three oviductal regions, and the highest value of IGF-I mRNA was measured in heifers on day 3. IGF-II mRNA was expressed predominantly in the muscle wall. IGFBP-1 mRNA was not detectable, whereas mRNAs encoding IGFBP-3 and -5 were expressed in both the muscle and mucosa. IGFBP-3 expression was higher in cows on day 0 and day 1 of the oestrous cycle than in heifers on day 3, day 6 and day 16 after insemination. A peak of IGFBP-5 expression was reached on day 6. Locally or systemically produced IGFs, regulated by IGFBPs, may act directly on the embryo or indirectly via modulation of oviductal secretions and muscular activity to influence the success of early embryo development.

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MD Fray, GE Mann, EC Bleach, PG Knight, MC Clarke and B Charleston

Bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV) is a major pathogen of cattle and is responsible for considerable reproductive loss. In this study, the in vivo responses in six multiparous cows were investigated after a non-cytopathogenic BVDV challenge (strain Pe 515; 5 x 10(6) tissue culture infective dose 50) given 9 days before a synchronized ovulation. Six similar cows challenged with non-infectious culture medium served as controls. The experimental noncytopathogenic BVDV infection was followed by a viraemia and leucopenia at days 5-9 after challenge, but no other clinical signs of infection were detected. However, the BVDV infection altered endocrine function. Mean LH pulse frequency immediately before CIDR withdrawal was lower (P < or = 0.05) in the BVDV-infected (2.17 +/- 0.34 pulses per 8 h) compared with the sham-infected (4.83 +/- 1.04 pulses per 8 h) animals. At day 3 after CIDR withdrawal, plasma oestradiol concentrations remained high (P < 0.05) in the infected cows (2.19 +/- 0.51 pg ml(-1)) compared with the sham-infected controls (0.72 +/- 0.29 pg ml(-1)). However, there was no difference in the peak oestradiol concentration (BVDV: 2.31 +/- 0.29 versus sham: 2.34 +/- 0.41 pg ml(-1)). In addition, non-cytopathogenic BVDV significantly (P < 0.05) increased the duration of the interval between ovulation and onset of the postovulatory progesterone increase (values 1.0 ng ml(-1)) (BVDV: 3.0 +/- 0.26 versus sham: 4.0 +/- 0.26 days). The viral infection also significantly (P < 0.01) decreased mean plasma progesterone concentrations between day 3 and day 11 after ovulation (BVDV: 2.59 +/- 0.32 versus sham: 4.13 +/- 0.27 ng ml(-1)). These data show that non-cytopathogenic BVDV viraemias during the follicular phase can modulate the secretion of gonadotrophins and sex steroids, in particular progesterone, during a synchronized oestrous cycle. Therefore, viraemias during the follicular phase may reduce the fertility of cattle by disrupting the capacity of the ovulatory follicle to form a competent corpus luteum, thereby compromising early embryo development and maternal recognition of pregnancy.

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TJ Parkinson, KC Smith, SE Long, JA Douthwaite, GE Mann and PG Knight

Freemartins are sterile XX/XY chimaeras that occur as a result of placental fusion between male and female fetuses during early pregnancy. Freemartins occur predominantly in cattle, although the prevalence of ovine freemartinism is increasing. In this study, the reproductive endocrinology of ovine freemartins was compared with that of normal sheep. Freemartins had significantly (P < 0.001) higher basal concentrations of LH and FSH than did normal ewes or rams, although the response of LH to GnRH (10 microg) was similar in freemartins, ewes and rams. Resting concentrations of oestradiol were similar in freemartins and ewes and were increased in both after eCG administration. Testosterone concentrations were higher in freemartins than in ewes, but were unresponsive to GnRH or eCG. Administration of 62.5 mg progesterone or 25 lg oestradiol twice a day for 3 days suppressed LH concentrations to baseline values in freemartins, ewes and rams. In ewes, 500 microg oestradiol administered twice a day caused preovulatory surges in LH concentrations, but suppressed LH in freemartins to baseline values. Thus, LH secretion can potentially be regulated in freemartins by gonadal steroids. FSH concentrations in freemartins were not suppressed by doses of inhibin that were effective in ewes and rams. Therefore, freemartins behave in part like castrated animals, as they have high basal concentrations of LH and FSH, which can be stimulated by GnRH and suppressed by gonadal steroids. Conversely, inhibin does not suppress FSH concentrations in freemartins, and freemartins have circulating concentrations of steroids intermediate between those of castrated and normal animals.